The National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, run by an attorney at the Department of Veterans Affairs, has the worst possible rating a charity can have: zero out of four stars.
Charity Navigator, a watchdog for non-profit organizations, has slapped on a zero rating for the foundation from 2010 to 2014 for apparent gross misappropriation of funds, namely not in the hands of vets. According to filings, the charity brought in $29 million during those years, but just 2 percent of that total actually helped veterans, CNN reports.
“It’s a zero-star organization and you can’t go lower than that,” Charity Navigator CEO Michael Thatcher told CNN. “They don’t have an independent board of directors, they actually don’t even have a comprehensive board of directors — only three members on the board at this point in time and some of them are family. So one can say, is this representative of an independent board? It’s not.”
The National Vietnam Veterans Foundation is run by J. Thomas Burch, who also works as deputy director in the Office of General Counsel for the VA. In 2014, he earned $127,000 from the VA and the NVVF also paid him $65,000.
A 2014 tax filing from the charity shows that $133,000 was allocated for travel, $8,000 for parking expenses and $21,000 given for awards, among other costs.
Burch refused to answer any of CNN’s questions while at his VA office, so reporters tried to call him at home. There too, he did not answer. CNN then visited his home address, and he proceeded to speed off in a Rolls Royce.
The VA’s inspector general is now conducting an investigation into the matter. A VA spokesman insisted to CNN that there was no “per se” conflict of interest.
Veterans’ charities have undergone increasing scrutiny following the scandal that enveloped the Wounded Warrior Project. A CBS News investigation in January revealed testimony from multiple current and former employees who bitterly complained that executives at the charity were lavishly spending donations intended for veterans on pomp and circumstance at conferences and other events. These employees found it unconscionable that donations were being spent on the finest alcohol and dinners.
Steven Nardizzi and Al Giordano, the CEO and COO of the organization respectively, were fired. Since the investigation first aired, the charity has become ensconced in a power struggle to answer the question of who will lead the charity moving forward. This struggle has further damaged the charity’s reputation, which has already been sullied in the past by an overly aggressive legal campaign waged against other veterans’ charities over intellectual property claims.
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